The Veterans for Peace anti-war demonstrations, built seaside the first Sunday of every month, may have faded a bit in recent years, but the display is still going strong.
In response to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, war veterans, activists, and volunteers constructed 340 wooden crosses — representing American soldiers killed in the conflict — and dug them into West Beach sand in November 2003. Because of the public’s immediate positive reception, Veterans for Peace began repeating the protest on a weekly basis.
Then, after one mother wrote her deceased son’s name on a cross, their number expanded to 3,000, half of them displaying the names of troops killed in Iraq. In August 2010, Arlington West shifted its focus to U.S. deaths in Afghanistan and added a small representation of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The display last Sunday, February 5, morphed once again to keep up with current conflicts. It featured an arrangement of around 1,500 black and white crosses, caskets covered by American flags, flowers, and a large sign reading, “Don’t Attack Iran! End US Occupation of Iraq/Afghanistan Now!” The miniature Vietnam Memorial was also present.
The volunteers present at the demonstration on Super Bowl Sunday said they thought they were connecting with the people they interacted with, saying that about 70 percent of these people agreed that there would be a war with Iran. “We’re all veterans. No matter what they say, we think there’ll be some bloodshed,” commented Thomas Scheff, a Korean War veteran and professor of sociology at UCSB.
After observing passing groups of people for over three hours, Scheff said that many walk right by their arrangement of crosses and memorial displays but appear to ignore them. “What’s really interesting is that a lot of people don’t want to know,” he said. “They don’t even look. A lot of people say, ‘What war?’ I say, ‘Afghanistan.’ When I say what the cost of the war is, they look at me and understand. Women cry.”
Despite the ignorance of some, the veterans feel that their efforts are worth it because of the people that do hear them out. “This is one way we hope to get to the whole country,” said Ron Dexter, a Korean War veteran and longtime Arlington West volunteer. “The message might get out there and remind people, ‘Wait a minute. What is this about?’ And maybe they won’t fall into this stampede because one of our ships gets attacked or someone says something bad about us.”
Demonstration volunteers said they feel a war with Iran is likely. “How are things in Iran now? They’re in turmoil,” said Dexter. “The sanctions that we’ve applied to Iran have hurt the people — just like we did to Iraq. The Iranians are unhappy with Americans for very good reasons. We’re putting sanctions on them and telling them they can’t produce anything nuclear.”